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GOP strategy ousts two Hernando commissioners

BROOKSVILLE — A day after voters ousted two-term county commissioners Diane Rowden and Chris Kingsley, opinions varied on just what went wrong for two Democrats.

In the District 3 race, former School Board member John Druzbick earned nearly 54 percent of the vote over Rowden. In District 5, the race was tighter as rancher and former Brooksville Fire Chief James Adkins took about 51 percent of the vote in beating Kingsley.

District 1 commission incumbent Jeff Stabins easily won his second commission term. The Republican earned more than 57 percent of the vote over his opponent, Ramon Gutierrez.

"We're obviously very, very pleased with how it all turned out,'' said Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the Republican Executive Committee. "We wanted to target Rowden and Kingsley … and I think it paid off.''

Trinque said the Republicans tried to show voters that Rowden and Kingsley gave misinformation when they said they had lowered taxes.

"I think a lot of people felt that they were being overtaxed,'' she said. After the overwhelming support of voters for Amendment 1, "you would have thought that they would have gotten the hint.''

As for Stabins not falling to the same sentiment, Trinque said that his opponent was "an unknown'' who was new to politics. "At least Jeff, I think, will work well with John Druzbick and James Adkins and Dave Russell,'' she said, naming the board's other Republican members. "I think we can depend on Jeff to make the right decisions.''

For builder and Government Gone Wild producer Blaise Ingoglia, his $25,000 campaign to unseat incumbents targeted Kingsley and Rowden. On Wednesday, he said of the results, "this is a new start. We've turned a corner in Hernando county.

"The things that I started last year with our government waste seminars enlightening the taxpayers about their county spending has culminated in the removal of two county commissioners who were not good stewards of our tax dollars,'' he said.

Linda Hayward of the Hernando County Taxpayers Alliance said she had mixed feelings about the outcome of the election. Her group had strongly supported Adkins and Gutierrez and she said she was sorry that Gutierrez had not beaten Stabins.

"I was working very hard for Ramon,'' she said. "I think both parties abandoned him.''

The alliance did not take a stand in the Rowden and Druzbick race. Hayward said that is because they saw Druzbick's "tax-and-spend'' attitude in 12 years on the school board being just like Rowden's on the county commission. While Druzbick has talked fiscal conservatism during his campaign, Hayward said she wanted to wait and see.

"Only time will tell,'' she said. "I hope he lives up to his promises'' to lower taxes and propose charter government.

Also working against Rowden was a last minute barrage of negative fliers from two state electioneering committees. One dredged up her past suspension from the School Board on Sunshine Law violations and another focused on her bankruptcy in the early 1990s and tax liens placed on her at the time but long since repaid.

While the fliers were from state committees, each had local involvement from the same builders and developers whom Rowden often proudly fought on new projects. They include the prominent attorney Joe Mason, the Manuel family, which own Coastal Engineering, and developer Tommy Bronson for one flier and for the other, the chairman is local Realtor Gary Schraut.

Schraut said his group, Council for Stronger Neighborhoods, targeted candidates across the state that were "not Realtor friendly.'' The group raised more than $600,000 from real estate political action committees in the last few weeks for races around Florida, including Hernando County.

While Schraut said he wasn't completely happy with the flier on Rowden that came out at the end of the campaign, he did think Rowden needed to be called on her past record since she often spoke of her long history serving the citizens.

Rowden, he said, was her own worst enemy by alienating builders, Realtors and the chamber, leaving few people for her to appeal to. "Diane Rowden has never minced words as far as her campaigning,'' Schraut said. "Through that mailing, we didn't mince ours.''

Druzbick said he wasn't aware that Schraut was involved in the mailing and he had nothing to do with it. Schraut supported Druzbick's campaign.

While Druzbick spent Wednesday making appointments to meet with County Administrator David Hamilton and was thinking about his initial steps as a commissioner after the Nov. 18 swearing-in, Rowden was still struggling with the loss. She was reading supportive e-mails and reminding herself of the many constituents she has helped over the years.

Rowden said she knew she had an impact from the way her opponents worked against her. "How much money did they spend trying to get me,'' she said.

Rowden's husband Jay, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, also tried to comfort his wife by telling her that her stands on responsible rather than rampant growth put her in the crosshairs of the most powerful people in the county.

"To me it gives a signal that many of the voters in the county believe that the builders and developers should run the county. So be it,'' he said. "That's the exact opposite of where Diane has been.''

Jay Rowden predicted that a new Republican-majority commission was going to have a clear agenda ranging from lowering impact fees to revisiting the future of THE Bus to cutting services.

He also predicted that next year, when falling property values slash tax revenues even further, the commission will have to take more from the sheriff's budget.

"It all comes back to the power structure,'' Jay Rowden said. "To these guys, Diane and Chris, they were an obstacle. They spent money and time to get rid of the obstacle.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

GOP strategy ousts two Hernando commissioners 11/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 9:48pm]
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